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Forgiveness: An Exploration by Marina Cantacuzino — Insightful but forgivably flawed

A book about extraordinary acts of forgiveness, including by parents of their children’s killers

Forgiveness: An Exploration
Author: Marina Cantacuzino
ISBN-13: 978-1398513631
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Guideline Price: £14.99

Forgiveness: An Exploration is the latest book from Marina Cantacuzino, a former journalist who founded The Forgiveness Project in 2004. This UK-based charity shares stories of “trauma, transformation and forgiveness” through talks, workshops and a prison outreach programme.

In Cantacuzino’s book, we read about many of these cases: of Fr Michael Lapsley, for instance, who was sent a letter bomb in the post during the Apartheid era by South African officials in retaliation for his ANC membership. He lost his hands and eye, and his ear drums were shattered, but he says he has no regrets about what happened to him.

We consider the friendship between the Brighton bomber, Patrick Magee, and Jo Berry, the daughter of one of the five people his bomb killed. Bjørn Ihler, a survivor of Norway’s Utoya Island massacre, discusses how he has evolved from that tragedy.

Her charity, Cantacuzino says, aspires to be “a place of enquiry rather than persuasion”, a broad mission that underlines both the strength and weakness of this book. The stories are extraordinary but are contained within a structure that can be confusing.

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Cantacuzino takes interesting detours, for example into what can happen when a community or family doesn’t support a person’s wish to forgive or the differences between personal and political forgiveness but it’s unclear if any conclusion can or should be drawn from these episodes.

More seriously, the book moves so swiftly at times between cases that the reader is often left wanting to know much more. A page or two is just not enough to render the journey a bereaved parent has taken to forgive the murderer of their child. The effect can feel like a kind of stream of consciousness, though for some, this will perhaps be a part of the book’s appeal.

Still, there is much to reflect upon here. An unequivocal pleasure of the book is the inclusion of many salient quotes from thinkers on these subjects, perhaps none more so than this from Nietzsche:

“Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster ... for when you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”

There can be no doubting the power of The Forgiveness Project’s original premise.